As admissions decisions are released and the season of college visits and big choices ramps up, I’m here to give another perspective on what the path to Oberlin was like.
For a long time, I was completely sure I would go to school in a big city and far away, somewhere like New York or London. I also thought I was going to study writing and pursue a career as an editor. Both of these things changed pretty drastically in the last couple of years before it was time to actually submit applications. As I got older, reality set in and I knew that going out of state to a huge city was probably not going to be the most practical choice for me. I also learned through life experience that what I needed to thrive was a small school with a tight-knit community. So when I began the search I looked for smaller schools, some around NY, some closer to home.
One tool that helped a lot in my research was Niche.com. They have a lot of reviews and information on schools across the country, and even allow you to compare them side by side. I ended up choosing around 10 schools to apply to, a mix of back-ups, long-shots, and in-betweens. I started the search early, so this was around the beginning/middle of my junior year. Oberlin was on the list, but barely on my radar at this point. It just so happened that around this time, I had planned a weekend visit with my best friend from high school who goes here.
This visit was the first one that set me down the path to Oberlin. I stayed with my friend at Harkness Co-Op, and they showed me around campus. We stargazed on the roof of the conservatory, visited the Arb, and ate delicious Hark meals. We saw the koi pond, went to Kim’s, and spent a day wandering through the Allen Art Museum. That weekend allowed me to experience the vibrant communities here through the eyes of students, and to get information from sources other than the internet and admissions. As the weekend went on, I realized I had never felt so safe in a community, or so accepted. I caught a glimpse of how my own life could look if I went here. It was a sense of home so unlike anything I had experienced before. The realization of how much I loved it was a troubling one at first-- I was so set on going farther away from home. But soon I realized that part of why I loved it was that it still felt worlds away from home, despite it only being a two-hour drive (with some of the most stunning scenery Ohio has to offer). At the end of this initial weekend visit I called my mom to tell her Oberlin felt right. The next time I visited was with her, and afterward she said she couldn’t see me anywhere else.
From then on it was a lot more research and application stress. After another visit in the summer, I decided to apply Early Decision (ED). Then a few months later I visited what was meant to be a backup school. That school ended up surprising me with how much I loved it too, and I found myself stuck. I spent weeks agonizing over this. One key moment leading up to the final decision was a conversation with some of my friends who’ve been in this position before. I remember looking up after explaining how I felt about both schools to see their expressions utterly bewildered. They couldn’t believe I didn’t see how obvious it was-- they knew me extremely well, and apparently when I talked about Oberlin I lit up in a way they had never seen me before.
Although I was pretty sure after this, I still made endless pro/con lists and worried quite a bit before I finally applied. The most helpful thing for me was to make a spreadsheet (I highly recommend this method, especially if you’re really torn!). I laid out the two schools, and then as many factors/traits as I could think of: dining hall quality/quantity, campus size, class size, distance, student body, dorms, arts programs, clubs, community, academics, psych programs, etc. Each of these factors got a rating on a scale of 1-10 for how important they were to me. Next, I went down the columns and rated the individual schools for each factor on a scale of 1-5. The final step was then to multiply the school’s factor rating by the importance rating, add them all up for each school, and look at the final totals. I can’t remember the exact results, but there was a difference of something like 50-80 points. Even though I already knew, calculating this served as a concrete way for me to see that it was the right choice, beyond just that gut feeling.
All that being said, this process doesn’t have to be as stressful as I made it for myself. I put an insane amount of pressure on it, thinking that picking the “right” school would essentially make or break my entire future-- which just isn’t true. You can carve out a place and a life for yourself wherever you go. This choice, while important, is not world-ending. So for anyone who tends to fall into similar thinking traps, I want to share a quote I found immensely comforting during this time:
“Have you ever considered there might be more than one path to use what you have? Or to get where you want to be to make the most difference in the world?… So I don’t know. Maybe there’s more than one dream for you, or more than one way to get there” (Case McQuiston, Red, White, & Royal Blue).